With September just around the corner, I think we can all agree 2020 has already been a long and arduous year. My last blog post dates back to February, a time when we didn’t know what it meant to ‘flatten the curve’ and yet here we are, well into the third quarter adapting our way of life to accommodate COVID-19.
Back in February, the world had yet to meet George Floyd and the saying ‘Black lives matter’ didn’t roll off the tongue for many. I sometimes think about George simply living his life at the beginning of this year when no one could have imagined the horrific event that would lead to his death and spark the global civil rights movement we know today.
On a very personal note, my own life changed in the best way. In the midst of what has at times felt like the apocalypse, I was blessed enough to become a mom and bring a new life into this world. I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy exactly one week after the World Health Organization declared the spread of the novel Coronavirus a pandemic. While I feel like the luckiest person in the world, the suffix ‘in the middle of a pandemic’ is not something I thought I’d be adding to the word ‘childbirth’ in relation to my own birth story. Despite all the pregnancy books, videos and classes available, a pandemic is just not something I mentally prepared for. And besides, I had other concerns at the time.
Becoming a mom to a Black boy in 2020 is a responsibility that brought up many emotions throughout my pregnancy. In fact, my co-workers would often ask how I felt and despite their genuine interest and concern, I realized early on that there was a performative aspect to being pregnant. They wanted to hear about my possible fatigue, morning sickness, swollen ankles and food cravings. Not my anxiety about the additional responsibility that comes with Black parenthood and raising a Black child in a world that so often has little love or respect for their greatness. There’s just no cute or comfortable way to say “oh yeah the immensity of systemic racism and the many ways it’s already affecting my unborn child is really weighing down on me today”. So I’d just say nothing, resort to an “I’m good” and leave the conversation about navigating the healthcare system while Black and pregnant at home. Mind you, this was all before the re-ignited Black Lives Matter movement which has only reinforced the reality of my concerns.
Reflecting on 2020 made me realize that the form of self-censorship I described above has been more common than not in my life. While I consider myself to be hyper aware of the many ways racism occurs, I’ve often become subject to white supremacy when it has come time to speak up. Giving up my power and confidence, favouring other people’s comfort, diminishing my voice, softening my tone, according too much grace and giving the benefit of the doubt to too many ‘nice people’ are all ways in which I silenced myself. All in an effort to distance myself from the Sapphire or ‘Angry Black Woman’ trope that still haunts me. But the world has forever changed in this yet-to-be named era and so have I. In fact, I feel as though the world in lockdown has opened our collective floodgates to honesty around injustice. If George Floyd’s death has forced anything upon us, it’s a global conversation about the many ways in which Black and Brown life is vulnerable. I’ve come to resent that vulnerability. And that resentment has emboldened me to speak up in a more authentic and timely way. ‘I said what I said’ is a sentiment I’ve been leaning into lately and when I look at social media, I realize that I’m not alone.
From family and friends, to co-workers and people I follow online, I’ve been heartened by the posts, comments, resources and reminders that the fight against racism is a marathon not a race. I know we normally roll our eyes at the idea of social media activism because of the rampant problem of performative allyship which we can not ignore, but I can say that this has been a period of great learning and unlearning for me. Thanks in part to the conversation happening online. From bold truths, to calling brands to task, to numerous book recommendations, to infographics and cartoons illustrating new terms and concepts, I’ve been furiously screen-grabbing everything I can find just to remember this moment in time. I’ve also been grateful for the Black journalists and communications professionals using their platforms to tell it like it really is in Canada. Thanks to Sasha Exeter, Kayla Grey, Donnovan Bennett, Kathleen Newman-Bremag and Code Black Canada (just to name a few), I finally have a fulsome picture of the Canadian communications landscape for Black professionals. While the truth in their stories has really saddened me, it has also empowered me in deep and meaningful ways. While I haven’t actually met many of these people, I thank them for confidently calling out racism under no uncertain terms.
So where does that leave me? Well aside from the 11 plants I bought to cope with quarantine, I currently find myself striving for joy. Joy in my house for my son and my partner. Joy in my craft, pushing my portrait photography to new authentic levels. And joy in ambition, fighting the urge to diminish myself in order to execute on long-standing personal projects. So keep an eye out for this blog and sign up for my newsletter because there is new content in the pipeline that I’m excited to share shortly. In the meanwhile, enjoy photos of the beautiful Marine at Humber Bay Park in Toronto as my first expressions of that joy, which is a form of protest in and of itself.
As you can see I’ve felt a lot of things this year. And I guess this post is a cathartic exercise in consolidating my thoughts so far. With just 4 months left, we have no idea what the future will bring but if the recent past is any indication, there will surely be many lessons to be come.